So I learned from a friend last night about the mythical significance of Lilith in the Talmud. This was Adam’s first wife, portrayed in the same books that would later comprise the Book of Genesis — though she was excised from them when they were incorporated into the Bible. (Yes, I have weird telephone conversations with my friends before bed.)
Aside from being a notable figure for feminists (she demanded equality with Adam), Lilith is alternatively portrayed as an evil or demonic figure. If I understand correctly, this is because she defied God’s law about Adam’s superiority, essentially “divorced” him, and left the Garden of Eden. (Jewish tradition holds that Eve was actually Adam’s third wife.)
So now I understand why the name pops up so often for villains in horror films and fiction. My own favorite is the vampire queen Lilith from the 2010 film adaptation of Steve Niles’ comic series, “30 Days of Night: Dark Days.” (See the trailer in the first video below. She’s the girl with the … dark eyes.) “Dark Days” was a surprisingly terrific movie for a direct-to-video sequel … Niles seems to be the rare creator to have anything he touches turn to gold. (In addition to the movies, the many comic book limited series under the “30 Days of Night” banner have been almost uniformly excellent … “Dead Space” was pretty clunky and the 2017 reboot was largely unnecessary, but they were both still enjoyable.)
Anyway, the Lilith you see in the trailer was played by the priceless Mia Kirshner. If she seems a like a familiar female villain, it might be because you remember Kirshner as Mandy, the mysterious, cherubic assassin on “24” (2001-2014).
It also occurs to me now that the name of Frazier’s ex-wife on “Cheers” and “Frazier” was a subtle joke too — complete with an ostensibly psychic character calling her an “evil presence.”
You learn something new every day.
“The Dead Don’t Die” indeed has the greatest zombie cast ever assembled. Seriously, just look at that poster below. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the best zombie screenplay ever written, or the best direction ever seen in a zombie film. This would-be classic was a surprisingly average viewing experience; I’d rate it a 6 out of 10.
I almost feel guilty for feeling so unenthusiastic, because I like so many of these actors so much. Bill Murray and Adam Driver actually are quite funny as the movie’s two torpid police officers; Chloe Sevigny makes them even funnier as their panicked straight man. And the addition of Tilda Swinton’s zany Scottish samurai undertaker makes them the perfect comedic quartet. (I think this is the first time I’ve seen Sevigny in a movie, as she mostly does arthouse films — including 2003’s ignominiously reviled “The Brown Bunny.” And I had no idea that Driver was this talented, given his milquetoast turn as a villain in the most recent spate of “Star Wars” films.) I honestly would love to see the four of these characters battle apocalyptic threats in a series of comedies — aliens, vampires, killer robots from the future … whatever.
Other big names shine here as well. Tom Waits and Caleb Landry Jones are both surprisingly funny, delivering little bouts of quirky, laconic, character-driven dialogue in a film that seems intended as mashup between “Cannery Row” (1982) and the first two “Return of the Living Dead” films (1985, 1988). (I first saw Jones as the creepy kid in 2010’s “The Last Exorcism;” I suspect that more of my friends will recognize him as Banshee from 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.”)
The problem is this — although many of the characters are engaging, they populate a subdued, disconnected movie that is frequently quite slow. Writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s heart is in the right place — assembling this oddball ensemble cast for the mashup I mentioned above is actually a terrific idea. But “The Dead Don’t Die” ultimately lacks punch, and even a tongue-in-cheek horror-comedy needs a minimum of tension. The movie is a bit too lethargic to become the truly great film that the trailer led us to hope for.
Complicating matters is the fact that that several groups of characters follow story arcs that go nowhere — sometimes literally. (Where did the kids from the juvenile detention center run off to? Why were they included at all? Not much happens to them and they have nothing to do with the rest of the movie.) This movie often felt like a number of comedy skits stitched together — some were admittedly quite funny, but they didn’t add up to a cohesive story.
Oh, well. It’s possible that you will like “The Dead Don’t Die” much more than I did. I might be the wrong audience for this, as I’ve never cared much for horror-comedies. (The aforementioned “Return of the Living Dead” films are on the short list of those that I like.) Your mileage may vary.
Ghosts seldom scare me, because I’m never 100 percent clear on what sort of threat they present to the protagonists of a horror film or TV show. They’re not like zombies, vampires, werewolves or serial killers, all of which will do predictably horrible things to their victims.
Can ghosts … kill you? Injure you? That usually doesn’t make sense, given their non-corporeal nature. Can they … scare you to death? How would that work? Would they cause a heart attack? Or drive you mad? That’s fine, I suppose, but here they’ve taken a back seat to the demons of horror films since 1973’s “The Exorcist” spawned a sub-genre with far more frightening supernatural baddies. Are ghosts supposed to inspire existential dread, by reminding the viewers of their own mortality? For me, that backfires — their existence would strongly suggest the existence of an afterlife, which would be paradoxically reassuring.
It’s therefore a testament to the quality of Netflix’ “The Haunting of Hill House” (2018) that it’s frequently so scary, even to me. We find out in the first episode that its ghosts indeed do more than frighten the story’s protagonists, but it’s the show’s writing, directing and acting that make it so memorable. It’s an a superb viewing experience, and I’d rate it a 10 out of 10.
The cast roundly shines — but especially Carla Gugino and Timothy Hutton (even if his performance was a little understated). Catherine Parker is deliciously evil in a supporting role as the house’s most outwardly vicious spirit. The best performance, for me, however, was the young Victoria Pedretti as the traumatized Nell — she was goddam amazing, and deserves an Emmy nomination.
Mike Flanagan’s directing was perfect — his use of long angles and colors to make lavish interiors disorienting reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s similar sensory trickery in “The Shining” (1980). Michael Fimognari’s cinematography was beautiful. Even the makeup effects were damned good. (Nothing beats Greg Nicotero’s work in “The Walking Dead” universe, but the work here is sometimes horrifying.)
I’m not the only one who loved this show either. It is broadly praised in online horror fan circles (though I’d recommend avoiding most of those for spoilers). I haven’t read Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel that is its source material, but a bibliophile who I trust assured me that the show is even better.
Sure, there were some things that didn’t work for me. “The Haunting of Hill House” actually does take a while to get where it’s going; it favors in-depth, flashback-heavy character development over advancing its plot, in much the same manner as “Lost” (2004 – 2010) once did. And some viewers might feel the same frustration here as they would for that show.
Its story and supernatural adversaries are also distinctly Gothic. (Your mileage may vary as to what’s a comfortably familiar trope and what’s an archaic cliche. I myself was more interested the more modern and three-dimensional interpretation of ghost characters seen in 1999’s “The Sixth Sense.”) I’d even go so far as the say that the first ghost that we see in any detail is actually disappointing — the otherworldly figure connected with the bowler hat felt too cartoonish for me, like something we’d see on Walt Disney World’s “The Haunted Mansion” ride. (Trust me, they get more intimidating after that.)
Give this show a chance — and stay with it if you think it’s too slow, or if you find its characters a little unlikable at first. You’ll be glad you did.
Weird world: if the diffident, sometimes off-putting character of Steven looks familiar to you, it might be because that’s none other than Michiel Huisman, who plays the charismatic Daario on “Game of Thrones.”
I was only a baby when ABC debuted the original “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” in 1973, but I caught it when it was rebroadcast around the end of the decade, when I was … six or seven years old? And dear GOD did it scare the crap out of me.
Since then, it’s become a minor legend in the horror fan community as one of the rare made-for-television movies that is easily as scary as something you’d see in a theater. This was the film that was remade in 2010, produced by Guillermo del Toro and with Katie Holmes in the lead role. (And I thought that the remake was a fun horror fantasy, even if it wasn’t terribly scary.)
I actually caught the film again about ten years ago, courtesy of Netflix’ DVD-by-mail service. And it was still creepy enough.